Less than a month after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf called on state lawmakers to draft a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, Senators Sharif Street and Daylin Leach have delivered. And what the two Democrat lawmakers are proposing with SB350 could be the most comprehensively progressive marijuana legalization bill to date. The bill includes provisions for home grow, total expungement of prior cannabis-related convictions and delivery services. It also opens the door to the industry, making it easy for individual and small-scale growers and retailers to open businesses and placing checks on large out-of-state corporations.
Advocates of recreational legalization in Pennsylvania, an issue which enjoys majority support among state residents, are praising how SB350 centers criminal justice reform and focuses on equity in the industry. Even out-of-state cannabis officials are impressed with the bill. But the question is whether Sens. Street and Leach can win the support of the Republican opposition. When Gov. Wolf announced his support for recreational legalization late last month, Republic representatives in the House responded by saying they had “no plans or interest” to pursue a legalization agenda.
New Pennsylvania Legalization Bill is Progressive Cannabis Advocates’ Dream
Throughout 2019, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman embarked on a statewide “cannabis listening tour.” Fetterman held public discussion forums online and in each of the state’s 67 counties, and in September, the governor’s office released a report on the tour’s findings. That report showed overwhelming support among Pennsylvanians for significant cannabis reforms, from criminal record expungement to decriminalization and recreational legalization. The overwhelming show of support ultimately pushed Gov. Wolf, who had yet to take a definitive stance on adult-use cannabis, to support legalization efforts.
At a press conference announcing his new position and the release of the listening tour report, Gov. Wolf issued three broad recommendations to legislators: decriminalization, expungement and a “serious debate” about recreational legalization. SB 350 gives Gov. Wolf what he wants, and then some.
Home grow? No problem; a $50 annual permit fee allows anyone to cultivate up to 10 plants and gift or use that cannabis for personal use. That’s more than any other state that allows home grow. Support for local small businesses and entrepreneurs? Absolutely; microgrowers and craft cultivators can grow up to 150 plants to sell raw cannabis to processors and dispensaries for just a $250 per year permit.
Compare that to the license fees for bigger growers, which the bill sets at $100,000 with an annual renewal of $10,000. The bill would also cap large cultivators at 150,000 sq. ft. of outdoor and 60,000 sq. ft. of indoor grow space. But in perhaps the biggest check on Big Cannabis, no one grower could have an ownership stake in more than one grow facility.
Radical Social Justice Provisions Included in New Legalization Bill
The support for small growers and small businesses, however, aren’t even the centerpiece of Street and Leach’s proposal; it’s their criminal and social justice provisions. The bill would support education through the Department of Agriculture, which would help schools offer classes to train students for careers as cannabis industry entrepreneurs. And colleges and universities could grow and process cannabis as part of any cannabis-industry related courses and curriculums.
The bill also aims to redress the past and ongoing harms of prohibition. SB 350 wouldn’t just expunge cannabis-related criminal offenses, it would actually commute sentences. And that means people who are behind bars right now for weed would regain their freedom. The bill would furthermore end state supervision of people on probation due to cannabis-related offenses. And state prosecutors would have to drop all pending criminal cases and charges related to marijuana.
To support equity, the state would also provide, under the bill, $2 million in interest-free loans for low-income Pennsylvanians previous convicted on marijuana charges who want to become entrepreneurs in the new legal industry.
Along with earmarking cannabis tax revenue for public schools, allowing public consumption lounges and more, these provisions add up to a highly comprehensive and progressive legalization package. But it’s one that is certain to cause serious debate between its sponsors and the GOP lawmakers staunchly opposed to cannabis reform.